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What is magnetic resonance imaging?

Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI is an imaging technique that provides highly-detailed cross-sectional “pictures” of your organs and other structures inside your body without radiation. Like X-rays, MRIs are completely noninvasive and painless, but while X-rays use radiation to capture and create images, MRIs use very powerful magnets and radio waves. MRIs are used to detect and diagnose diseases and other medical problems and they’re also used to monitor the progress of medical treatment.

How MRIs work

Your body is composed mostly of water, and water contains tiny charged particles of hydrogen that react to magnetic energy. The MRI’s magnetic field causes the charged hydrogen particles to shift position so they “line up” with the magnetic field. When the radio energy is “turned on,” it disrupts this alignment, causing the charged particles to pull against the magnetic field. As the radio current is turned off, the charged particles release tiny bursts of energy as they resume their alignment. The sensors inside the MRI device are able to capture and measure these bursts of energy, using the data to create very detailed images. Radiologists can use the measurements captured by the MRI to determine the type of tissue that’s being imaged, which aids in their diagnoses.

MRIs are so detailed, they can detect tiny abnormalities that might be missed with other diagnostic imaging techniques like X-ray and CT scanning, especially in the soft tissues. Most commonly, MRIs are used to capture images of the spine, brain, chest and abdominal organs, heart, blood vessels and “soft” components of the musculoskeletal system (like your ligaments, tendons and muscles). At Windsor Radiology, we also use MRIs to diagnose diseases of the breast tissue. Breast MRIs typically are performed in conjunction with mammograms or breast ultrasounds to provide the most comprehensive and accurate diagnosis. In addition to single breast exams, our bilateral breast MRI technology allows both breasts to be imaged simultaneously.

What to expect during your MRI

The MRI device is shaped like a long tube or tunnel. During the scan, you’ll lie on a soft exam table that slides inside the MRI device. Although Windsor Radiology's MRI has the largest bore available, it can feel confining to some people. If you have claustrophobia or if you’re concerned you might feel too confined during the exam, you can request a sedative before your MRI to help you relax. MRIs make a lot of clicking and thumping noises while they’re in use. The sounds emitted by the device are made when the powerful magnetic field and radio pulses are turned on and off. You’ll be given headphones or earplugs to wear to help muffle the noise as you’re being scanned.

As the scan is being made, you’ll need to lie very still to ensure the machine captures the clearest images possible. The technologist will leave the exam room during the procedure, but you’ll be able to communicate using an intercom system built into the device. The technician will talk to your through the intercom system or your headphones, letting you know what to expect throughout the imaging process. The length of your exam will depend on what’s being evaluated. Most MRIs take about 30 - 45 minutes, but some exams may take a little more time.

Once the exam is complete, you’ll be able to go home right away. If you’ve had a sedative to help calm you, you’ll need to arrange to have someone drive you home. The images from your MRI will be given to a radiologist who will interpret the results and provide your doctor with a comprehensive report of the findings.

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